Despite the rapid development of equity awareness, gay marriages continue to generate public controversy. According to Lamanna and Riedmann, same-sex families and unions are becoming more diverse, although the society maintains strong barriers to same-sex marriages and even cohabitation (p 206). In this paper, a gay male couple with a child living in the home has become the object of analysis. Jake and Tim live in Washington, D.C. They are legally married and have a 10-year-old daughter. The young lady named Allison is Tim’s biological daughter, born in his first marriage with a woman. Tim and Meltem, his first wife, had been married for 5 years before Tim realized he no longer wanted to live with a woman. At that time, his wife Meltem showed serious health problems and was soon placed to a psychiatric clinic. Tim was able to claim his rights for his daughter Allison. He and Jake have been officially married for 8 months. Before that, they had claimed their public commitment to each other, which had emotional significance for their couple and informed their extended families, friends, and colleagues about the seriousness of their intentions (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 207). Tim is 34, and Jake is 28. They used to work in the same IT company but currently run their own business. They travel a lot with their daughter and can be fairly considered a middle-class family. Both men are Caucasian White and are born Americans.
The main reason why this family was selected for this assignment is because its family structure and dynamics are equally similar to and different from those in heterosexual couples. Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples value love and commitment (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 207). Their sexual exclusivity problems are almost the same as those in heterosexual unions (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 207). However, unlike heterosexual couples, same-sex partners display greater role equity and sharing (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 207). The effects of discrimination on union cohesiveness and family dynamics should be also considered. Of particular interest is the fact that Jake and Tim have a 10-year-old daughter living in the home, which further justifies the importance of studying their family structure and dynamics.
Life in a Same-Sex Union: The Main Features
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Studying same-sex families is interesting and important for several reasons. However, it is even more important to understand why same-sex unions can be regarded as families. According to Lamanna and Riedmann, a family is any parent-child, sexually expressive, or other kin relationship in which people – usually related by marriage, ancestry, or adoption – (1) form an economic or/otherwise practical unit and care for any children or other dependents, (2) consider their identity to be significantly attached to the group, and (3) commit to maintaining that group over time. (p 4)
In other words, a family is a union of two or more people, based on ancestry, marriage, or adoption, which may or may not involve a sexual aspect but is inevitably associated with the concepts of commitment, identity development, and attachment. In all these senses, Jake and Tim are a family. Their union builds on sexually expressive and parent-child relationships (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 4). They also rely on the common economic and financial resources and provide common care for their child (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 4). Finally, they have already proved their intention to stay committed to their family over time, and they believe that their identity is strongly attached to their family union (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 4).
Cohesion is one of the defining characteristics of a strong family. Family cohesion is actually the emotional bonding couples experience towards one another (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 318). Culture greatly influences the degree to which families and unions are cohesive, and cohesion perceptions vary considerably across individuals, peoples, and nations. Jake and Tim are unanimous in that their family is truly cohesive. When asked why their family is cohesive, they reply that they are emotionally attached to each other and appreciate each other’s contribution to their family union. This is, actually, one of the first characteristics of family cohesiveness in Lamanna and Riedmann (p 318). Tim says that, since he and Jake became a couple (even before their marriage), their reality has become shared (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 318). In everything they do or decide to do, they always (a) take into consideration each other’s interests; and (b) discuss these interests and expectations openly. Their daughter Allison says she likes that her male parents plan everything together, and they spend a lot of time together going out. This is also what Lamanna and Riedmann describe as “arranging their personal schedules to do things together” (p 318). However, neither Tim nor Jake is confident that they can successfully overcome crises. Tim says their family is still too young to think about crises. However, Allison says that her parents do not quarrel and, in case of any disagreements, they do not shout and, in most cases, invite her to share her opinions.
How family disagreements are handled
As mentioned earlier, Tim and Jake try to handle their disagreements peacefully and invite their daughter Allison to share her opinions with them. Moreover, Tim says that their family union is too young to think about disagreements or crises. There is an impression that neither Tim nor Jake believes they can face a serious conflict at some point of their relationship. Allison confesses she cannot imagine her parents quarreling or fighting even over a major problem. It also seems that Tim and Jake are still at one of the most romantic stages of relationship development, when their feelings are still fresh and they truly believe their feelings and commitments will last forever. However, Jake recognizes that, at times, when Tim must spend more time at work negotiating with their customers and suppliers, he silently hates their social and material affluence (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 325).
Displacement – this is what happens to Jake when he cannot spend a lot time with Tim and their daughter. However, Tim also realizes that everything Jake does at work is for their common good, and his anger is soon replaced by affection and understanding. Allison says they often share jokes regarding their job and workplace problems, which means that expressions of warmth, humor, and affection are the major instruments used in their family to de-escalate conflicts (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 328).
What struggles has the family faced
Although Tim says that their family is too young to think about disagreements, their union has already undergone a serious crisis. Tim and Jake have been successful in overcoming their barriers to a happy life, but the scope of negativity poured on their union, especially by extended family members, relatives and friends, has become a serious test to their feelings and commitments. Tim and Jake suddenly found themselves in complete social vacuum. Jake says their home phone could be silent for days. That was a so-called ambiguous loss, when they lost their family members but could not be certain that the family member had really gone (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 382). Jake confesses that losing family support was even more tragic for him than facing family members’ death, since he knew everyone was alive but could not contact them. That was the feeling of psychological absence, which was also extremely demoralizing for both men and their daughter Allison (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 383). Allison says that was the time when she started to get low grades, and her school achievement became a matter of everyone’s concern. The lack of support was truly heartbreaking for everyone in their family (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 384). It took more than 6 months for both men to prove the seriousness of their intentions and explain that there was nothing immoral or bad in living together as a couple.
It should be noted, that while Tim, Jake, and Allison were able to solve their problems with the extended family members and friends, they still disagree in many things. The most serious is the issue of gay discrimination. Both men face misunderstanding and open discrimination on the side of heterosexual colleagues, friends, or acquaintances. Tim believes that they should simply ignore the discrimination allegations against themselves. Jake, on the contrary, feels that they should educate other people about their relationship. However, they both share a positive outlook that helps them to deal with their disagreements effectively (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 392). Despite these discrimination issues, Jake, Tim, and Allison are very optimistic about their future and believe they have been able to achieve an ideal balance of emotions and physical presence in their family.
The role of extended family
Jake and Tim say that, today, extended family members do play a serious role in the development and maintenance of their union. Their parents come regularly to spend time with Allison. Their daughter often spends weekends with either Tim’s or Jake’s parents. Allison tells a story of how she and her grandparents go shopping or learn new things, watching educational programs or reading new books. However, Allison also says that neither Tim’s nor Jake’s parents fully accept their same-sex union. Tim’s parents often say that it is not natural for a girl to have two fathers. Allison says these things when both men are outside, so that they do not hear her words. As a result, it is possible to assume that the two same-sex partners do not have a full picture of their relationship with parents. In the meantime, Allison is so enthusiastic about their marriage that she does not want to open the truth to them. Allison is honestly proud that their family is so friendly and, despite her young age, she is ready to defend the possibility and importance of same-sex unions.
Gender socialization is a topic of a particular concern, as long as Allison grows in the family of two same-sex parents. Today’s society is characterized by the weakening of gender hierarchies (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 92). However, parental roles in children’s socialization processes cannot be ignored (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 92). Like in many other families, Allison’s gender socialization began somewhere between five and six years old, when her biological father Tim taught her to clean her room and cook simple things (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 94). Allison says that she certainly identifies herself as a young lady. She also looks and behaves extremely woman-like. However, both Tim and Jake say that they do not limit their daughter in her daily and leisure activities. She enjoys spending time with boys and playing their games. Simultaneously, Allison says that even in her relationships with boys she should not look or behave like a boy. It seems that these are not her words, but who taught Allison to say so remains unclear. Tim and Jake say that they have some fears regarding Allison’s gender socialization patterns. Tim also claims that, as their daughter is moving towards her teen years, she may face gender-specific problems which neither he nor his partner Jake will be able to solve.
All parents display a unique parenting style. Parenting style is a manner of disciplining children (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 264). Tim and Jake display a peculiar combination of authority and permissiveness in their relation to and disciplining of Allison. More often, permissiveness is the central mode of dealing with Allison, which gives her full freedom of choice (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 264). However, Lamanna and Riedmann write that permissiveness means providing little guidance to children in their daily activities (p.264). This is certainly not the case of Tim and Jake’s family. Allison shows full commitment to everything her male parents have to say. She often asks them questions regarding mundane things. Anyone observing how Allison communicates with Tim will notice that his opinion is crucially important to her. As a result, it is incorrect to say that Tim and Jake do not provide parental guidance (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 264). On the authoritative side, Tim’s parenting style is characterized by warmth, emotional nurturing, and a certain amount of control (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 264). Actually, Tim controls almost everything Allison does, but he does it so that his daughter does not notice his emotional or physical presence.
Expectations and role definition.
Tim and Jake have one major expectation that makes their union stronger: they expect that their daughter Allison will become a university graduate (or even more) and find a person to make her days as colorful as they are in their family. They work together towards this common goal and are willing to overcome any barriers in their way to success. In the meantime, Allison says that she wants all these days to last forever, as she has not been so happy for years. As for the role definition, Tim and Jake cannot remember how the distribution of roles occurred in their family. In heterosexual couples, gender is one of the key drivers of role definition and power dynamics (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 342). Tim and Jake often switch their home and work roles, depending on the situation. In their parenting attitudes, Tim’s position of Allison’s biological father is the decisive factor of role definition and change: Jake says he can never deny the importance of biological ties between Tim and Allison, and in many decisions concerning the girl’s future he silently accepts Tim’s point.
Contrary to previous expectations, the family structure and dynamics in same-sex and heterosexual couples looks very much alike (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 4; p 207). Tim and Jake live their lives like a usual marriage couple, with their daily concerns and achievements. However, either because of their earlier marriage experiences or because of their gender, Tim and Jake display a unique, almost intangible commitment to their family union. Their family cohesion is remarkable and can readily become a good lesson for many heterosexual couples. They possess vast communication and decision making opportunities. Conflicts in their family are rare. However, like many other same-sex families, Tim and Jake must constantly negotiate their relationships with the heterosexual world (Lamanna & Riedmann, p 207). They still have problems with extended family members, but with their cohesiveness and commitment, they will readily overcome all difficulties in their way to happiness.
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